Internet of Tea: Coaster Watches for Optimum Drinking Temperature

Ah, the age-old question: at what temperature does one’s tea need to be for maximum enjoyment? It’s subjective, of course, but subjective in a way that makes everyone else’s opinion demonstrably wrong. What’s worse, the window of opportunity for optimum tea temperature is extremely narrow. What’s a tea drinker to do?

Throw a little technology at the problem, of course, in the form of this Internet of Tea smart coaster. Through careful experimentation, [Benjojo] determined the temperature of his favorite mug when the tea within was just right for drinking and designed a coaster to alert him to that fact. The coaster is 3D-printed and contains an MLX90616 IR temperature sensor looking up at the bottom of the mug. An ESP8266 lives inside the coaster too and watches for the Optimum Tea Window to open, sending an alert via Discord when the time is right. Yes, he admits that a simple blinking LED on the coaster would keep his tea habit metadata from being slurped up by the international tea intelligence community, but he claims he has nothing to hide. Good luck with that.

What’s next for [Dane]’s tea preparation? Perhaps he can close the loop and automate the whole pre-consumption process.

Raspberry Pi Foosball Scoreboard

Foosball, also known as table football, is a classic game from the 1920s that is completely devoid of the bells and whistles of modern gaming. Players control stoic little figures with the most simplistic of input devices in order to move a tiny ball to and fro on the playing field. So naturally, somebody thought they should add a Raspberry Pi to it and drag the whole thing kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

The team at [Matmi] spend a good portion of their down time huddled over a foosball table, but they found the experience was significantly less exciting for the spectators than the players. To add a little more pomp to their sessions they added a flashy display that not only shows the current score, but makes individual scores a bit more exciting by showing some celebratory confetti.

Micro switches mounted in the ball return tubes of the table allow the Raspberry Pi to know who scored and when. This information is picked up by the web-based scoreboard written in Vue.js and served out by nginx. The actual scoreboard is being displayed by a laptop that’s connected to the Pi over Wi-Fi.

If the software setup seems a bit convoluted, it’s because the project itself was something of a learning experience for HTML5 and web programming in general. Further updates are planned to streamline the system a bit to make it more self-contained, as well as adding more features to the scoreboard such as tournaments and randomized matches.

Interestingly, we’ve seen quite a few foosball hacks over the years. It seems these tables are somewhat ubiquitous in offices and hackerspaces. From turning it into an online-enabled experience to building an AI table you can play against, there’s plenty of ways to inject some new life into this nearly 100-year-old game.

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MIT Makes Washable LED Fabric

Let’s face it, one of the challenges of wearable electronics is that people are filthy. Anything you wear is going to get dirty. If it touches you, it is going to get sweat and oil and who knows what else? And on the other side it’s going to get spills and dirt and all sorts of things we don’t want to think about on it. For regular clothes, that’s not a problem, you just pop them in the washer, but you can’t say the same for wearable electronics. Now researchers at MIT have embedded diodes like LEDs and photodetectors, into a soft fabric that is washable.

Traditionally, fibers start as a larger preform that is drawn into the fiber while heated. The researchers added tiny diodes and very tiny copper wires to the preform. As the preform is drawn, the fiber’s polymer keeps the solid materials connected and in the center. The polymer protects the electronics from water and the team was able to successfully launder fabric made with these fibers ten times.

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Converting A 3-in-1 Printer Into A WiFi Scanner, Just Because

[Zaprodk] had trash-picked a defunct HP Envy 450 AIO, a 3-in-1 printer, scanner, and copier. Normally there usually isn’t much use for these unless you’re willing to hunt down the cartridges which it used, so your next step is to dismantle it for parts. That’s what he was going to do but then decided to see if he could remove as much as possible while leaving just the scanner.

Converted WiFi scanner boards

He ran into trouble after he’d “fixed” the lid-open sensor and unplugged pretty much everything. He was getting too many error messages on the LCD panel to reconfigure the WiFi. Luckily he could connect it to his computer using USB and do the configuration from there. One dubious mod involved turning an “unflipped” flexible flat cable into a “flipped” one by doing a little cutting, scraping and gluing. Check out his write-up for the full hack.

Interested in more dumpster hardware recovery? Check out how [Adil Malik] rescued a scope with some reverse engineering and an FPGA. And then there’s how [Matt] turned a dumpster-found WiFi router into a 3D printing server.

Thomas The Terrifying Karaoke Robot

The junk bin can be a great source of inspiration, unless you’re too familiar with the contents to be imaginative with them. But thrift stores are another matter, like giant junk bins that are constantly replenished by underappreciated elves. You never know what kinds of goodies they will pile on the shelves, so it’s easy to become a fixture and visit them once or thrice a week.

[Hunter Irving] haunts a few choice thrift stores in his neighborhood, and a few months ago he found a knockoff Thomas the Tank Engine with an articulated face. It uses a simple mechanism to produce an impressive amount of movement, especially for a cheap knockoff toy. Both of its eyes slide sideways and its mouth opens, resulting in a very animated (and terrifying) range of expressions. Sensing an opportunity to turn his animatronic robot dreams into karaoke-singing nightmare fuel for the rest of us, he forked over a few bucks and took it home.

As luck would have it, a 9g micro servo fit perfectly in the back of the frightening little face. [Hunter] designed an axle to transfer motion to the face mechanism, but it broke almost immediately. We applaud his Plan B, though, which consists of a mounting block for the servo, and a cable tie armature connected with screws. Once that was sorted, [Hunter] designed a bulbous body for it in Blender.

This terrifying train-faced toy uses an Arduino Leonardo to read MIDI note-on and -off messages, and opens his mouth when appropriate to sing hit favorites in a smooth, speech-synthesized contralto. Pour yourself a strong beverage and enjoy the build/demo video after the break.

Interested in making your own? [Hunter] has all the files up on his Patreon page. For just $1, you can access the code, synth files, and STL files. While you’re there, you can also get the scoop on his Nintendo LABO waveform cards.

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Power Generation Modules Mix and Match Wind, Water, and Hand Cranks

What’s great about the Power Generation Modules project headed by [Cole B] is the focus on usability and modularity. The project is a system for powering and charging small devices using any number and combination of generator modules: wind turbine, hand-crank, and water turbine so far. Power management and storage is handled by a separate unit that acts as a battery bank to store the output from up to six generators at once. There’s also a separate LED lamp module, designed to be capable of being powered directly from any of the generator modules if needed.

Testing the water turbine module

The hand crank is straightforward in concept, but key to usability was selecting a DC gearmotor with a gear ratio that made cranking by hand both comfortable and sustainable; too weak of a crank and it’s awkward, too hard and it’s tiring. The wind turbine has three compact vanes that turn a central shaft, but testing showed the brushless motor it uses as a generator isn’t a good match for the design; the wind turbine won’t turn well in regular wind conditions. The water turbine prototype showed great success; it consists of an epoxy-glazed, 5 inch diameter 3D printed propeller housed in a section of PVC pipe. The propeller drives a brushless motor which [Cole B] says easily outputs between eight to ten volts when testing in a small stream.

The team has plans for other generators such as solar, but this is a great start to an array of modules that can be used to power and charge small devices while off the grid. We’re happy to see them as a finalist for The Hackaday Prize; they were selected as one of the twenty projects to receive $1000 cash each in the Power Harvesting Challenge. The Human-Computer Interface Challenge is currently underway which seeks innovative ideas about how humans and computers can interface with one another, and twenty of those finalists will also receive $1000 each and be in the running for the Grand Prize of $50,000.

Dawn of the First Digital Camera

Technology vanishes. It either succeeds and becomes ubiquitous or fails. For example, there was a time when networking and multimedia were computer buzzwords. Now they are just how computers work. On the other hand, when was the last time you thought about using a CueCat barcode reader to scan an advertisement? Then there are the things that have their time and vanish, like pagers. It is hard to decide which category digital cameras fall into. They are being absorbed into our phones and disappearing as a separate category for most consumers. But have you ever wondered about the first digital camera? The story isn’t what you would probably guess.

The first digital camera I ever had was a Sony that took a floppy disk. Surely that was the first, right? Turns out, no. There were some very early attempts that didn’t really have the technology to make them work. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was using analog electronic imaging as early as 1961 (they had been developing film on the moon but certainly need a better way). A TI engineer even patented the basic outline of an electronic camera in 1972, but it wasn’t strictly digital. None of these bore any practical fruit, especially relative to digital technology. It would take Eastman Kodak to create a portable digital camera, even though they were not the first to commercialize the technology.

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